A sampling of comments on Pindar Olympian 5

2017.11.10 | By Maša Ćulumović

Olympian 5 is one of the few Pindaric odes that lack a mythical narrative. The focus, instead, is on the victor himself and on his role in the resettlement of his hometown of Kamarina. The ode refers also to other benefactions credited to the victor, especially the glory of two Olympic victories that made his homeland famous. Extended descriptions of Kamarina and of the victor’s latest victory in Olympia are especially striking. My comments focus on those descriptions, and I analyze them from the standpoint of a subfield of linguistics, pragmatics, as I proceed to examine the spatial orientations and shifts effected through verbal signs and cues.

subject headings: Kamarina; Olympia; metonymy; apostrophe; deixis ‘referential pointing’; hic et nunc ‘here and now’; origo ‘deictic center/anchorage’; eponymous nymph

Olympian 5 was composed in honor of the victory by Psaumis of Kamarina in a mule-cart race at Olympia in 448 BCE. All we know of the victor comes from this and one other victory ode—Olympian 4—composed for an earlier victory in a chariot race. These two odes, Olympian 4 and Olympian 5, are the only Pindaric compositions commissioned by a patron from Kamarina, a Greek city located on the south shore of Sicily between Akragas and Gela in the west and Syracuse in the east. Although the proper names of Kamarina and Olympia occur only once in Olympian 5, many paraphrases for both locations metonymically direct our attention to one place or the other. (For a definition of metonymy, see the Inventory of terms and names.) Remarkably, the apostrophe to the Olympic victor [Olumpionīkos], at O.5.21, notionally links the two locations: on the semantic level, it looks back to the place of victory, but on the level of ‘referential pointing’ (deixis), it addresses the victor in the ‘here and now’ (hic et nunc) of Kamarina, as evidenced by the reference to it, at O.5.20, as ‘this city’ [polis hēde]. In the song, Olympia is evoked in the image of ‘the six double altars at the greatest religious festival |with the sacrifices of oxen in the five days of athletic competitions’ (βωμοὺς ἓξ διδύμους ἐγέραρεν ἑορταῖς θεῶν μεγίσταις |6 ὑπὸ βουθυσίαις ἀέθλων τε πεμπαμέροις ἁμιλλαις), O.5.5–6, in the cultic references (without explicit narrative) to the heroes Pelops and Oinomaos, O.5.9, and in the landscape features that include the hill of Kronos, the river Alpheos, and an Idaian Cave. O.5.17–18. (For an identification of the cave, see the comment at O.5.18.). Kamarina, on the other hand, is pointed to in the invocation of its eponymous nymph and her ‘people-nourishing city’ (πόλιν λαοτρόφον) at O.5.4, the ‘newly-founded home’ (νέοικον ἕδραν) at O.5.8, and the landmarks such as the precinct of Athena, Lake Kamarina, and the rivers Oanos and Hipparis, O.5.10–14.


Sicilia, Camarina. Circa 415–405 BCE. AR Didrachm (8.20 g, 12h).  Horned head of young river-god Hipparis left, wearing taina; KAMAPINA before Nymph Kamarina, holding up her veil in her left hand, reclining right, head left, on swan swimming left; waves around.  Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Sicilia, Camarina. Circa 415–405 BCE. AR Didrachm (8.20 g, 12h). Horned head of young river-god Hipparis left, wearing taina, inscription KAMAPINA on the left. Nymph Kamarina, holding up her veil in her left hand, reclining right, head left, on swan swimming left; waves around. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


These thumbnail sketches of the two regions are not all grouped in discrete sections; in fact, they are so thoroughly interwoven in the fabric of the ode that the listener’s attention is continuously directed from one to the other, from the imagined to the visible, from the physical sight to the mind’s eye. Not even all the sites in Kamarina would have necessarily been visible from the site of the original performance (river Oanos, for example, is some 6 miles away from the ancient city), and this would have been especially the case in subsequent re-performances where the listeners might have experienced the song elsewhere in Sicily, at Olympia, or any other location. Overall, in the course of the song, the listener’s attention is guided from Olympia to Kamarina and back in no fewer than seven distinct spatial shifts: from Olympia to Kamarina at O.5.1, O.5.8, O.5.10, O.5.20, O.5.21 and from Kamarina to Olympia at O.5.5, O.5.17, O.5.21. An additional movement to the Olympic landscape, during the competition at the hippodrome, may even be registered at O.5.3 in the reference to the ‘tirelessly-running mule cart’ (ἀκαμαντόποδός τ᾽ ἀπήνας) of Psaumis, interjected between the two invocations of Kamarina, O.5.2 and O.5.4. However, the origo or the deictic center in the act of song’s utterance remains fixed in the homeland of Psaumis, as indicated by the verbs of motion dehkesthai ‘to receive’ (δέκευ), O.5.3, and hikanein ‘to come’ (ἵκων), O.5.9, anchored as they are in Kamarina, to which the victor is envisaged as returning and whose community is encouraged by the poet to welcome him with due celebration. In a reciprocal gesture, Pindar’s poetic persona is also presented as ‘arriving’ (ἔρχομαι), O.5.3, to the location of the festivities that include the very performance of the song.


subject headings: triad; eponymous nymph; Kamarina; aretē ‘achievement, athletic struggles and prowess’; stephanos ‘garland’; kūdos habron ‘luxuriant glory of victory’; apostrophe; kerūssein; poetics of praise [; ainein]

In the opening of the first triad, the city’s eponymous nymph Kamarina, the daughter of Ōkeanos, is asked to accept a ‘sweet choice reward’ (ἄωτον γλυκύν), Ο.5.1,  in exchange for ‘athletic struggles of the highest order’ (ὑψηλᾶν ἀρετᾶν), Ο.5.1, and for the ‘garlands’ [stephanoi] won in Olympia. The achievement of Psaumis and the reward he carried off are conceived as the ‘gifts’ (δῶρα), Ο.5.3,  to be welcomed by Kamarina through the medium of the present song. Psaumis achieved his accomplishments by furnishing entries in the races with chariots, mules, and single horses and, upon victory, conducting grand sacrifices of oxen on the altars of Olympia. The ‘luxuriant glory of victory’ [kūdos habron] was, therefore, conferred not only on Psaumis, his family, and ancestors, embodied collectively in the mention of his father Akron, but it was also bestowed upon his hometown of Kamarina. In Pindar’s wording, Psaumis ‘dedicated’ (ἀνέθηκε), O.5.8, the glory of his victory [kūdos] to Kamarina, addressed as ‘you’ (τίν) at O.5.7, in a continuation of the opening apostrophe. It is significant to note that the amplification of kūdos habron ‘the glory of victory’ is imagined as coming from the mouth of Psaumis himself, as he is envisioned in the act of kerūssein ‘making a public proclamation’ (ἐκάρυξε), O.5.8, of his father and his homeland. Through a metonymical transference of utterance from the original official heraldic announcement that would have concluded the athletic contest in Olympia to the persona of the returning victor, the poetry invests Psaumis with an ability to confer fame in the manner of an official Olympic herald [kērux]. Moreover, even though the act of proclaiming [kērussein] is attributed to the victor’s own voice and persona, it is ultimately the present performance of Pindar’s composition that assumes that role, taking shape, as it does, in the very act of being described. The concentric circles of epinician praise are thus encapsulated in the first triad, with the victor at the center, followed closely by the immediate family and by the implied ancestral line, extending in its widest reach to the whole homeland community of Kamarina.


subject headings: dekhesthai ‘to receive, to welcome’[; kōmos ‘revel, reveling, band of revelers, occasion for reveling][; khoros ‘group of singers/dancers’][; aretē]

Dekhesthai ‘to receive, to welcome’ is virtually a technical term in epinicians. It implies arrival and reception of a kōmos ‘revel, reveling, band of revelers’, which Pindar uses to describe what, in reality, would have been a khoros, a performing group of non-professional singers/dancers, who would have been carefully trained and choreographed for the occasion of the epinician performance. The ‘reception motif’ is pervasive in Pindaric victory odes, either coupled explicitly with kōmos or, as in this case, used metonymically for the song being performed. The song itself is understood to be a recompense for, and therefore on par with, ‘athlete’s struggles and athletic prowess’ [aretē].


subject heading: spatio-temporal “hinge”

The exhortation to Kamarina to receive the gifts of Psaumis in the present is followed by a description of his past activities in Olympia, with the relative pronoun hos ‘who’ (referring to Psaumis) functioning as a ‘hinge’ that enables the spatio-temporal shift. See also the comment at O.5.10 for a reverse spatio-temporal shift from Olympia to Kamarina.


subject headings: Kamarina; Deinomenidai

The epithet ‘newly-built’ (νέοικον ἕδραν) most likely refers to the resettlement of Kamarina in 461–460 BCE, in which Psaumis took part. This event would have been the most recent physical, demographic, and political rebuilding and reorganization of the city in only 150 years since its original foundation. At different times Kamarina was associated with two neighboring “mother” cities—Syracuse and Gela—but also attempted numerous times to gain independence. It was first founded by Syracuse in 598 BCE and subsequently destroyed by the Syracusans around 553 BCE. Hippokrates of Gela rebuilt it in 492 BCE, but it was soon afterwards destroyed a second time by parties from Gela in 484 BCE. Kamarina was abandoned at that point and its citizens deported to Syracuse, where Gelon, a successor of Hippokrates and the first tyrant in the Deinomenidai lineage, moved the seat of government. The city was rebuilt once more by Gela after the fall of the dynasty of the Deinomenidai (Hieron and Thrasyboulos, after Gelon) in 461–460 BCE. Although all we know of Psaumis of Kamarina comes from the mentions of his name in two Olympian odes (Olympian 4 and 5), it is clear that he was a wealthy citizen who helped rebuild the city in the process of the latest resettlement. Commissioning a Pindaric epinician was intended not only to celebrate his Olympic victories but also broadcast his status and aspirations in the new community.


subject headings: Kamarina; Olympia; spatio-temporal ‘hinge’; deixis ‘referential pointing’; gnomic statement/sentiment

In the second triad Psaumis’ engagement with the local community and environs is further elaborated, as his return from Olympia is presented through a song about his hometown in the present. This triad starts off with an invocation as well, this time to the ‘city-protecting Pallas’ (πολιάοχε Παλλάς), O.5.10, of whose holy precinct Psaumis himself is imagined as singing upon his victorious return. In this case, the spatio-temporal shift from Olympia to Kamarina is facilitated by a less common epinician ‘hinge’ device: instead of the more usual relative pronouns or adverbs, we find here a participle-verb combination: ‘coming, as he comes’ (ἵκων), ‘he sings’ (ἀείδει), Ο.5.9, Ο.5.10. See the comment at O.5.4. The first subject of the song of Psaumis, Athena’s sanctuary, starts off a series of local landmarks: the river Oanos and ‘the nearby lake’ (ἐγχωρίαν λίμναν), O.5.11, which according to scholia is Lake Kamarina, invoked in the opening triad in the form of the city’s eponymous nymph, as well as the sacred canals of the river Hipparis, which provide water for the community and serve as a means of transporting building materials necessary for Kamarina’s frequent rebuilding efforts, O.5.12–14. The triad closes with a gnomic sentiment about the importance of labor and expense in all human endeavors, which includes, of course, athletics, but also—one might assume—Kamarina’s arduous rebuilding. The deictic emphasis on ‘this community of townsmen’ (τόνδε δᾶμον ἀστῶν), O.5.14, who benefit from the city’s reconstruction, is echoed in the closing words of the triad about the respect accorded to a successful individual by his ‘fellow citizens’ (πολίταις), O.5.16.


Camarina archaeological site: Temple of Athena, remains of a part of the foundations. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
A 5th century BCE temple of Athena in Kamarina is well known and has been excavated. It was situated at the summit of a small hill near the center of the city. Today only the foundations and a handful of stones from its walls survive in situ. Image via Wikimedia Commons.



Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Most of the stones from the Temple of Athena in Kamarina were used for the masonry of the 19th century building, which now houses the Museo Archeologico Regionale di Camarina, quite literally incorporating the temple remains! Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Most of the stones from the Temple of Athena in Kamarina were used for the masonry of the 19th century building, which now houses the Museo Archeologico Regionale di Camarina, quite literally incorporating the temple remains! Image via Wikimedia Commons.


subject heading: Kamarina

The subject of the verb ‘joins together’ (κολλᾷ) is ambiguous. It could be ‘he’ (Psaumis), continuing the construction from O.5.10—in parallel with ‘he sings’ (ἀείδει)—in order to emphasize Psaumis’ direct involvement in improving the navigation of the river Hipparis and facilitating the transport of building materials. Or it could be ‘it’ (Hipparis), the subject of the more immediately preceding relative clause at O.5.12 and in parallel with ‘waters’ (ἄρδει)—understanding the river as metaphorically building an area of sturdy dwellings by enabling the builders to rapidly float down wood and other construction elements for the new houses. In either case, the reference is an effective way of combining the local landscape features with their function in the life of the city and (explicitly or implicitly) with the involvement of Psaumis himself within the city.


subject headings: epichoric; Panhellenic

The final triad opens with an invocation to the third deity of the ode, Zeus Soter. He is explicitly localized in Olympia, inhabiting the hill of Kronos and honoring the wide-flowing Alpheos and the sacred cave of Ida. The following lines make it clear that the invocation is still made from the deictic origo in Kamarina, confirming that the general geographical ubiquity of Greek gods can be assumed whenever they are entreated, even if one location—Olympia, in this case—is more foregrounded than others. The three successive invocations take the audience progressively from a distinctly local context (Lake Kamarina) via a Panhellenic deity with a local cult (Pallas Athena) to the broadly Panhellenic perspective represented in the principal god honored at the Panhellenic Olympic competitions and festivities (Zeus, here in his manifestation as ‘Savior’ [Sotēr]).


subject heading: Idaian Cave

The reference to the cave of Ida has raised much speculation already in the antiquity. The scholia are divided on the issue, with some reporting a cave of Ida near Olympia and others suggesting that the reference here is to the great cave of Ida in Crete. The two variants need not be mutually exclusive (if, indeed, there was a cave of Ida in Olympia, which has so far not been identified). In another epinician (Pythian 1), for example, Apollo is localized first in Lycia, then in Delos, and finally in Parnassos, the site of victory.


subject headings: pragmatic polysemy; apostrophe; deixis ‘referential pointing’; distal deixis; proximal deixis

The first-person epinician speaker, interjects here with a self-reference for the first (and only) time in the song, announcing his arrival: ‘I come as your suppliant’ (ἱκέτας σέθεν ἔρχομαι), O.5.20. The polysemy, that is, the plurality of potential references inherent in the first-person epinician speaker is crucial for proper understanding the full range of the first person (both singular and plural) choral statements. Recognition that the epinician “ego-statements” often elide distinct moments from the time of the song’s composition to its live performance, leading to a frequent conflation of the choral “we, the performers” with the composer’s “I, the poet” and even with the audience’s “we, the local community,” helps to avoid the vexed attempts to assign a uniform referent to Pindaric ego across the epinician corpus as a whole. Here, the enunciative ego entreats Zeus to honor Kamarina—‘this city (πόλιν τάνδε), O. 5.20—and, in a parallel construction, addresses the Olympic victor himself (Ὀλυμπιόνικε), O. 5.21. The double apostrophe thus combines distal deixis (to Zeus in Olympia) with proximal deixis (to Psaumis in Kamarina), bringing the man and the god closer together, especially in light of the request ‘to adorn this city with famous deeds of manliness’ (πόλιν εὐανορίαισι τάνδε κλυταῖς δαιδάλειν), O.5.20–21, an act of which both Zeus and Psaumis can be seen as agents on the divine and human level respectively.


Subject headings: olbos ‘wealth, prosperity, bliss’[; mēnis ‘anger, wrath’][; phthonos ‘envy, grudge][; koros ‘insatiability’][; hubris ‘excess, outrage’]

Having invoked in virtually the same breath the ruler of the gods and a mere human, however accomplished and worthy, Pindar checks himself and exhorts Psaumis in a gnomic third-person formulation to do the same. In the poetics of praise, drawing near to the gods is a dangerous endeavor, potentially resulting in divine ‘wrath’ [mēnis], human ‘envy’ [phthonos], or one’s own ‘insatiable and outrageous excesses’ [koros, hubris]. And so, Pindar is quick to clear any potential confusion; the final words of the ode resound powerfully:

εἴ τιϲ ὄλβον ἄρδει, |24 ἐξαρκέων κτεάτεσσι καὶ εὐλογίαν προστιθείς, μὴ ματεύϲῃ θεὸϲ γενέϲθαι

‘if someone fosters a healthy wealth, |24 having enough possessions and adding to them praise, let him not seek to become a god.’


subject heading: olbos ‘wealth, prosperity, bliss’; ārdō ‘to water, irrigate, foster’; kteana ‘possessions’, eulogia ‘praise, blessing’

The verb ārdō, used here metaphorically in the sense of ‘to foster,’ was used earlier at O.5.12 with the full range of its potential meanings applicable to the river Hipparis. Pindar’s metaphors of watering and vegetative growth are frequently associated with the immortalizing power of song. In this case, it is precisely eulogia ‘praise [received from song]’ that distinguishes the wealth that is transcendent [olbos] and of higher order than the mere ‘material possesions’ [kteatessi].